Qualia of the problem

I have a generic rant about the qualia of the problem.  It goes something like this:

Qualia are a philosophical concept, they refer to subjective personal experience that can not be described, they are personally experienced and cannot be communicated.  Almost sad, how we can never truly share the same experience of us experiencing that sunset, of course we can show someone, or we can tell someone, but we can never directly impart the qualia of experiencing that thing.

With regard to problems and problem solving – I don’t smoke, and I have never gone through the process of trying to quite smoking, but if I did there would be a reason that I was originally smoking and a reason I wanted to quit.  With that in mind, I can propose suggestions for you to the generic, “quit smoking” and what I know about the problem, but even if I had quit myself, I would have probably had a completely different experience of quitting and what was stopping me and what I had to overcome in order to succeed in that goal.

Even if I quit smoking for “health reasons” and you are quitting smoking for “health reasons” those health reasons might not be the same health reasons.

We are humans, we are fallible and we like to summarise when we describe or situation to others.  We do this because it’s easier to summarise than it is to go into detail.  When it comes to problem solving – summarising does the opposite of being helpful, in fact it tends to hide the nature of problems and often obscure us from the solutions.  Einstein said, “if I had an hour to solve a problem, I would spend 55 minutes figuring out what the problem is and 5 minutes solving it”

When I ask you what the qualia are of your problem, yes, qualia are unsharable but all the same – I want you to go into details about what the goal is, what is in the way and what it feels like from the inside, trying to quit smoking or choosing to smoke anyway.  And even though some days you will choose to keep smoking, you can still quit smoking even though you will some days choose to keep smoking.  It’s almost like two minds fighting for control of the body.

When you go into details about the health problems, it needs to be abundantly clear that last week you walked up a set of stairs with some friends and you couldn’t keep up and you realised that being able to breathe was more important than smoking, and so you want to quit because you can feel what it’s like to be on one of those machines that breathe for you and it’s not pretty.

Or is it about looking hot for summer?  Because you look in the mirror and think – one of these days I have to start paying attention to my body and making it look like how I want it to look.  Which qualia are your qualia?  And now that we know which qualia are yours, what exactly is the problem related to those quales and how do we fix it?

I have said this rant or a variant of this rant so many times that I can repeat it and explain it on many problem areas.

The thing to realise is that to solve a problem you need to delve into what exactly it feels like to have that problem and usually when you are solving the problem is at a different time to when you are having the problem which means you need to understand the problem abundantly and from a distance in order to solve it.

Try this

  • What is the problem?
  • When was the last time it happened, describe it?
  • What did it feel like to be having the problem?
  • What have you tried to fix the problem?  What happened? Did it work?  Why would it have worked, why won’t it work in the future?
  • What is the most obvious solution?  Why does it usually work for other people?  Why will it work this time?  Why won’t it work?  Can you do something about that to make it actually work?
  • Describe what you were thinking when you were going through the problem?

Meta: this took 1 hour to write.

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Burn rates

Burn rate is a term used to describe a startup that is not yet making more money than it spends.  It makes a lot of sense if you can imagine a company like Uber thinking, hmm – we need users, but to get users we need a fully set up ride-sharing system, and to have enough money to build and maintain a fully set up ride-share system we need a fully set up ride sharing system to generate enough revenue to pay for the development alone.

If you are a small business (not a startup usually) you might think – is there a market here?  Does anyone actually want to buy icecream, from me, on this corner in the middle of nowhere.  So you might start by making a batch, selling to your friends, going to a local market for a few months, making sure people want your product, opening a small online store, processing orders for delivery, then eventually open a shop front, then another THEN TAKE OVER THE WORLD.

You might call this strategy a start small; proven market, grow to meet demand, strategy.

In contrast – thinking like a growth-fuelled startup – if we put together a team of coders and instead of building up from small, launch an Uber with an MVP that appeals to your audience, already working and growing from there…  while burning through a pile of cash, desperately trying to break even and turn big bucks of profit…

Burn rates apply to your own personal life and finances too.  the You Need A Budget website, as well as a few books on personal finance (that after a while start to all overlap), say similar things, think of your bank account as a runway, think of your daily, weekly and monthly spends as your speed down that runway.  The bigger your bank (or savings) budget, the longer the runway is.

Remembering of course that as a startup or a business you want to be travelling fast enough to take off (you want your finances to carry you for your whole life, or for the business to start lifting itself).  For your personal life, if you get sick for a month, if you break a leg and can’t go to work – how long of a runway do you have before you crash on a friends couch because you ran out of money to pay rent…  If you’ve never thought about this, maybe you don’t need to.  Or maybe you have never yet needed to, and that time will come when you will need to be prepared for the next black swan.

The point is that burn rates exist as a concept, and your runway is only so long before the banks start foreclosing on your house and you are pawning your measly possessions to scrape by.

Learning from this

I know I don’t ever take actions without instructions.  So here they are:

  1. Look at your bank account.
  2. Work out how much comes in each month (if you get paid in a regular cycle, use this, don’t bother calculating things right now)
  3. Work out how much goes out each month (or other cycle)
  4. If the money/savings is going down STOP AND FIX THIS RIGHT AWAY.  This short instruction set will not tell you how, google it.
  5. If the money is going up, work out how many months (or cycles) ahead you are.  So if you were removed from your ability to earn, but still had to pay all your expenses up until you ran out of money – how much time would you have to burn?
  6. Are you okay with that length of burn?  Some industries are easy to get a job in, some are harder.  A highly specialised programmer might have a high paid job but be out of work for six months if they get laid off.
  7. Contemplate future major spending – i.e. owning a phone, computer, car, house, investments, or other large lump sums.  How long until you can afford both that large expense and a few cycles of burn?
  8. If a relative or friend called you tomorrow to borrow a few thousand dollars, would you still have enough burn?

This exercise in checking out your finances does not tell you how to fix them, but it can hopefully make you ask the question, “am I okay with the current state of affairs?”

Meta: this took less than an hour to write.

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Addendum to: “should you reverse any advice you

Should You Reverse Any Advice You Hear?

This post relates to the above SSC post.  Scott says:

That lots of the advice people give is useful for some people, but that the opposite advice is useful for other people.

For example, “You need to stop being so hard on yourself, remember you are your own worst critic” versus “Stop making excuses for yourself, you will never be able to change until you admit you’ve hit bottom.”

Or “You need to remember that the government can’t solve all problems and that some regulations are counterproductive” versus “You need to remember that the free market can’t solve all problems and that some regulations are necessary.”

Or “You need to pay more attention to your diet or you’ll end up very unhealthy” versus “You need to pay less attention to your weight or you’ll end up in a spiral of shame and self-loathing and at risk of eating disorders.”

Or “Follow your dreams, you don’t want to be working forever at a job you hate”, versus “Your dream of becoming a professional cosplayer may not be the best way to ensure a secure future for your family, go into petroleum engineering instead.”

Or “You need to be more conscious of how your actions in social situations can make other people uncomfortable and violate their boundaries” versus “You need to overcome your social phobia by realizing that most interactions go well and that probably talking to people won’t always make them hate you and cause you to be ostracized forever.”

Or “You need to be less selfish and more considerate of the needs of others” versus “You can’t live for others all the time, you need to remember you deserve to be happy as well.”

When I wrote Applicable advice and it’s addendum, I genuinely had the same problem in mind.  However my solution to the same problem sits as a meta-strategy on his suggestion.  This makes me very happy to know that I quite reasonably agree with him.  I think of it as confirmation that I am travelling in the right direction.  To be clear about this I am going to work through his suggestion and apply my suggestion over the top.

Let’s look at the objectivist example given:

For example, maybe you join the Objectivist movement. You follow lots of Objectivist blogs that give you strong arguments for selfishness, hear lots of anecdotes of people being hurt by excessive altruism, and get exposed to any studies that seem to support the pro-selfishness point of view. You probably end up more selfish than you were before you joined the Objectivists.

Consider two possible interpretations of that result.

First, Objectivism might be a successful support group. People who aren’t selfish enough realize they need more selfishness in their lives, join the Objectivists, and support each other as they work to overcome their inbuilt disposition to ignore their own needs. Gradually they all become psychologically healthier people.

Or second, Objectivism might be a vicious cycle. The people who are already too selfish see an opportunity to be selfish with a halo. They join Objectivism, egg each other on, and become even more selfish still. Meanwhile, the people who could really have benefitted from Objectivism, the people who feel guilted into living for others all the time while ignoring their own needs, are off in some kind of effective charity group, egging each other on to be even more self-destructively altruistic.

What exactly have we done here with a piece of advice like “join the objectivists”?  As I wrote in Applicable advice:

If you take the time to understand why it exists and how it works; you can better take advantage of what it offers.

Understand that if this advice worked for someone there was a way that it worked for that someone. And considering if there is a way to make it work for someone, you can maybe find a way to make it work for you too.

As the example describes, we have an idea of what joining objectivist groups will do to you, we also know who it might work for, and who it might not work for including the obvious failure mode (if you are already too selfish you might be made worse, or be using the group as an excuse to be selfish with a halo).

I find this a stronger strategy than just reversing the advice and seeing if it fits more.  The reason it’s stronger is we would be adding complexity to the model to better explain the observations we have made.  If we don’t know why the advice works for some people, and we can assume our introspective tendencies – the ones that sit in system 2, are biased to tell us the good news about how great we are.  We need something better to determine of we actually are in need of the advice or the reverse advice.

The strategy of “you should reverse any advice you hear and see if it fits”, is missing complexity to help us decide if it is appropriate to be applied or not.  I am suggesting that complexity is in understanding why that advice exists and how it works to push people in the right direction.

I hope this helps tie things together and explain why this model needs more complexity.

Meta: this took 45 minutes to write.

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Schelling points, trajectories and iteration cycles

Schelling points

I have lived in the same suburb of the same city for all of my life.  We have a shopping centre that I know, if I go there for more than an hour – I will bump into someone I know.  I know this because it always happens.  And because it’s a natural collection point for humans.  Humans who need to go shopping for time to time.  This shopping centre is a schelling point for me to bump into people I know.

There are many types of schelling points.  When do we think about resolutions?  What time of year do we naturally contemplate the year, and resolve to do things for a new year?  New year’s eve.

When do we think about getting older?  When we officially increment our age by +1: Our birthdays.

When do we think about death?  At funerals.

When do we think about marriage and getting married?  At weddings.  And to a lesser extent wedding anniversaries.  Or engagement parties.

When do we think about having kids?  When we see other people having kids.  When we meet and spend time with lots of kids.

When do we think about luck?  When something particularly lucky happens like finding a coin on the ground.

These are all schelling points, natural times that we are compelled to think about these things.


Yes I mean the projectile motion trajectory.  When you make a plan and set yourself off in motion you make some assumptions that your trajectory will carry you there.

For example: if I read one page of this textbook a day I will be done in 12 months.  It’s a pretty simple calculation that 365 pages can be read in 12 months at the rate of 1/day.  Looks like it’s going to work.  Except that no plan survives first contact with the enemy.  In the first week you might read two pages a day, and then you might have a bad day and then skip a whole week, then to keep up you want to read 3 pages a day just in case that happens again.  But then you find a particularly easy chapter so you slow down and skip a few days.  When suddenly you find yourself stumped by the next chapter and running 30 pages behind.

Trajectory is a great and powerful concept when paired with Schelling Points.  In this example there was some kind of Schelling point to review progress on the textbook roughly each week, until suddenly (at the end) there wasn’t.  And the trajectory failed.

When you throw a rock in space, if you stop looking at it for a few years, you can expect it to keep going for a really long way.  However we don’t play out our plans and goals in space.  Most of them happen here on earth in a noisy system of all kinds of things that can go wrong.  This is why we want a schelling point.  A point to ask, “how am I going with this”, “am I still traversing the streams at the right speed”, “Is this still my goal?”

Iteration cycles

In startups there is a concept called, fail fast.  What you really want to do is not fail at all, but in lieu of that – what you really want to do is fail after the first week, give up and do something different for the other 51 weeks of the year, rather than spend 52 weeks failing spectacularly at the end.  Spend your other 51 weeks trying again, trying different things and trying not to fail.

An iteration cycle is when you go to the optometrist and they hold up lenses and say, “better or worse” repeatedly for 5 minutes, instead of making you a pair of glassed and then handing them to you and asking you if they are right or wrong.

If you set off at a trajectory of y=2x/day, and review at your schelling point in a year to find you are only at 120x for the total 365 days, that’s a lot less useful and you have a lot less chance of getting there on or near the original trajectory than if you review after a month to find your predicted 60x is in fact 10x and it’s time to figure out a different way to reach that trajectory.

Synthetic Schelling points

So you don’t currently have enough Schelling points?  It’s okay.  Most people don’t.  For starters it might be worth identifying your existing schelling points.  Some examples include:

  • Talking to your mother
  • New year
  • Birthdays
  • End of big assignments or projects
  • “payday”
  • When you buy new clothes (an entire new wardrobe)
  • The onset of seasonal change
  • Big fights with people you care about
  • political events
  • major financial changes, (i.e. buying a house or car, winning a prize)
  • new relationships, ending relationships
  • new job
  • weddings, anniversaries,
  • funerals, death of pets

You may have points here, you may not.  Whether you actually attend a funeral is different to whether you use that opportunity to consider your trajectories (and relevant trajectories to that event).

How frequent Schelling points is too frequent?  Every person will be a bit different.  I propose a test to find out.  Declare and test a Schelling point once a week.  If that’s too often, reduce to once a fortnight, and once a month.  If that’s not often enough – increase.  The other thing to keep in mind is the duration may change over time.  Some iterations will be shorter than others, some will be longer.

Starting a Synthetic Schelling point

To help, here are some seed questions to guide introspection.  They have an overlap with Hamming questions (from CFAR), but are generally known for being the really really important question that you want to have obvious answers to:

  • Am I travelling at the right trajectory?
  • Do I know my goals and do I still feel connected to them?
  • What were some of my biggest achievements?  When is my next one?  Am I heading there at speed?
  • Is my plan working?
  • Can I do the things that I am currently doing in a faster/better way?

Try it and report back.

Meta: this took 1.5hrs to write

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adding and removing complexity from models

I had a really interesting conversation with a guy about modelling information.  what I did when talking to him is in one case insist that his model be made more simple because adding more variation in the model was unhelpful, and then in another case in the same conversation, insist his model be made more complicated to account for the available information that didn’t fit his model.

On reflection I realised that I had applied two opposing forces to models of information and could only vaguely explain why.  With that in mind I decided to work out what was going on.  The following is obvious, but that’s why I am writing it out, so that no one else has to do the obvious thing.

Case where a model should be simplified

This all comes down to what you are measuring or describing.  If you are trying to describe something rather general, like “what impact do number of beach-goers have on the pollution at the beach?”, it’s probably not important what gender, age, race, time spent at the beach or socioeconomic status the beach goers are.  (With the exception of maybe socioeconomic status of the surrounding geopolitical territory), what is important is maybe two pieces of information:

  1. A measure of the number of beach goers
  2. A measure of the pollution

That’s it.  This would be a case for reducing the survey of beach goers down to a counter of beach goers and a daily photo of the remaining state of the beach at the end of the day (which could be compared to other similar photos).  Or even just – 3 photos, one at 9am (start), one at 1pm (peak) and one at 5pm (end).  This model needs no more moving parts.  The day you want to start using historic information to decide how many beach cleaners you want to employ, you can do that from the limited but effective data you have gathered.

Case where a model should have more moving parts added to it.

Let’s continue the same example.  You have 3 photos of each day, but sometimes the 1pm photo is deserted.  Nearly no one is at the beach, and you wonder why.  It’s also messing with your predictions because there is still a bit of rubbish at 5pm even though very few people were at the beach.  The model no longer explains the state of the world.  The map is wrong.  But that’s okay.  We can fix it by adding more information.  You notice that most days the model is good, so there might be something going on for the other days which needs a + k factor to the equation (+k is something added in chemistry, in algebra it’s sometimes called a +c as in y=mx+b+c, and physics +x, but generally adding a variable to an equation is common to all science fields).  Some new variable.

Let’s say that being omniscient to our own made up examples we know that the cause is the weather.  On stormy windy rainy days – no one goes to the beach, but some rubbish washes up.  Does this match the data? almost perfectly.  Does this help explain the map?  Yes.  Is it necessary?  That depends on what you are doing with the information.  Maybe it’s significant enough in this scenario that it is necessary.

Second example

The example that came up in conversation was his own internal model that there is fundamentally something different between someone who does exercise, and someone who Doesn’t exercise.  I challenged this model for having too much complexity.  I argue that the model of – there is a hidden and secret moving part between does/doesn’t exercise, is a model that doesn’t describe the world better than a model without that moving part.

The model does something else (and found its way into existence for this reason).  If you find yourself on one side of the model (i.e. the “I don’t exercise”) then you can protect yourself from attributing the failure to exercise to your own inability to do it by declaring that there is a hidden and secret moving part that prevents me from being in the other observable group.  This preserves your non-changing and let’s you get away with it for a longer time.  I know this model because that is what I did.  I held this model very strongly.  And then I went out and searched for the hidden and secret moving part that I could change in order to move myself into the other group.  There was no hidden and secret moving part.  Or if there was I couldn’t find it.  However, I did manage to stop holding the model that there was some hidden and secret moving part, and instead just start exercising more.

In figuring out if this model is real or a made up model to protect your own brain from being critical of itself, start to think of what the world would look like if it were true.  If there was some difference between people who do exercise and people who do not – we might see people clustered in observable groups and never be able to change between them (This is not true because we regularly see people publishing their weight loss journeys, we also regularly see people getting fatter and unhealthier, suggesting that travel in either direction is entirely possible and happens all the time).  If there were something describable it would be as obvious as different species, in fact – thinking evolutionarily – if such a thing existed, it’s likely that it would have significantly shaped the state of the world already to be completely different…  Given that we can’t know for sure, this might not be a very strong argument.

If you got this far – as I did and wondered, so why can’t I be in the other group – I have news for you.  You can.

  • Does this pattern of models with too many moving parts sound familiar to another model you have seen in action?
  • Is there a model that you use that could do with more moving parts?

Meta: this took an hour to write.  If I were to spend more time on it, it would probably be to tighten up the examples and maybe provide more examples.  I am not sure that such time would be useful to you and am interested in if you think it will be useful.

Cross posted to lesswrong: http://lesswrong.com/lw/nxx

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many draft concepts

I create ideas at about the rate of 2 a day, without trying to.  I write at about a rate of 1.5 a day.  Which leaves me always behind.  Even if I write about the best ideas I can think of, some good ones might never be covered.  This is an effort to draft out a good stack of them so that maybe it can help me not have to write them all out, by better defining which ones are the good ones and which ones are a bit more useless.

With that in mind, in no particular order – a list of unwritten posts:

From my old table of contents

Goals of your lesswrong group – As a guided/workthrough exercise in deciding why the group exists and what it should do.  Help people work out what they want out of it (do people know)? setting goals, doing something particularly interesting or routine, having fun, changing your mind, being activists in the world around you.  Whatever the reasons you care about, work them out and move towards them.  Nothing particularly groundbreaking in the process here.  Sit down with the group with pens and paper, maybe run a resolve cycle, maybe talk about ideas and settle on a few, then decide how to carry them out.  Relevant links: Sydney meetup,  group resources (estimate 2hrs to write)

Goals interrogation + Goal levels – Goal interrogation is about asking <is this thing I want to do actually a goal of mine> and <is my current plan the best way to achieve that>, goal levels are something out of Sydney Lesswrong that help you have mutual long term goals and supporting short term goal.  There are 3 main levels, Dream, Year, Daily (or approximate) you want dream goals like going to the moon, you want yearly goals like getting another year further in your degree and you want daily goals like studying today that contribute to the upper level goals.  Any time you are feeling lost you can look at the guide you set out for yourself and use it to direct you. (3hrs)

How to human – A zero to human guide. A guide for basic functionality of a humanoid system. Something of a conglomeration of maslow, mental health, so you feel like shit and system thinking.  Am I conscious?Am I breathing? Am I bleeding or injured (major or minor)? Am I falling or otherwise in danger and about to cause the earlier questions to return false?  Do I know where I am?  Am I safe?  Do I need to relieve myself (or other bodily functions, i.e. itchy)?  Have I had enough water? sleep? food?  Is my mind altered (alcohol or other drugs)?  Am I stuck with sensory input I can’t control (noise, smells, things touching me)?  Am I too hot or too cold?  Is my environment too hot or too cold?  Or unstable?  Am I with people or alone? Is this okay?  Am I clean (showered, teeth, other personal cleaning rituals)?  Have I had some sunlight and fresh air in the past few days?  Have I had too much sunlight or wind in the past few days?  Do I feel stressed?  Okay?  Happy?  Worried?  Suspicious?  Scared? Was I doing something?  What am I doing?  do I want to be doing something else?  Am I being watched (is that okay?)?  Have I interacted with humans in the past 24 hours?  Have I had alone time in the past 24 hours?  Do I have any existing conditions I can run a check on – i.e. depression?  Are my valuables secure?  Are the people I care about safe?  (4hrs)

List of common strategies for getting shit done – things like scheduling/allocating time, pomodoros, committing to things externally, complice, beeminder, other trackers. (4hrs)

List of superpowers and kryptonites – when asking the question “what are my superpowers?” and “what are my kryptonites?”. Knowledge is power; working with your powers and working out how to avoid your kryptonites is a method to improve yourself.  What are you really good at, and what do you absolutely suck at and would be better delegating to other people.  The more you know about yourself, the more you can do the right thing by your powers or weaknesses and save yourself troubles.

List of effective behaviours – small life-improving habits that add together to make awesomeness from nothing. And how to pick them up.  Short list: toothbrush in the shower, scales in front of the  fridge, healthy food in the most accessible position in the fridge, make the unhealthy stuff a little more inacessible, keep some clocks fast – i.e. the clock in your car (so you get there early),  prepare for expected barriers ahead of time (i.e. packing the gym bag and leaving it at the door), and more.

Stress prevention checklist – feeling off? You want to have already outsourced the hard work for “things I should check on about myself” to your past self. Make it easier for future you. Especially in the times that you might be vulnerable.  Generate a list of things that you want to check are working correctly.  i.e. did I drink today?  Did I do my regular exercise?  Did I take my medication?  Have I run late today?  Do I have my work under control?

Make it easier for future you. Especially in the times that you might be vulnerable. – as its own post in curtailing bad habits that you can expect to happen when you are compromised.  inspired by candy-bar moments and turning them into carrot-moments or other more productive things.  This applies beyond diet, and might involve turning TV-hour into book-hour (for other tasks you want to do instead of tasks you automatically do)

A p=np approach to learning – Sometimes you have to learn things the long way; but sometimes there is a short cut. Where you could say, “I wish someone had just taken me on the easy path early on”. It’s not a perfect idea; but start looking for the shortcuts where you might be saying “I wish someone had told me sooner”. Of course the answer is, “but I probably wouldn’t have listened anyway” which is something that can be worked on as well. (2hrs)

Rationalists guide to dating – Attraction. Relationships. Doing things with a known preference. Don’t like unintelligent people? Don’t try to date them. Think first; then act – and iteratively experiment; an exercise in thinking hard about things before trying trial-and-error on the world. Think about places where you might meet the kinds of people you want to meet, then use strategies that go there instead of strategies that flop in the general direction of progress.  (half written)

Training inherent powers (weights, temperatures, smells, estimation powers) – practice makes perfect right? Imagine if you knew the temperature always, the weight of things by lifting them, the composition of foods by tasting them, the distance between things without measuring. How can we train these, how can we improve.  Probably not inherently useful to life, but fun to train your system 1! (2hrs)

Strike to the heart of the question. The strongest one; not the one you want to defeat – Steelman not Strawman. Don’t ask “how do I win at the question”; ask, “am I giving the best answer to the best question I can give”.  More poetic than anything else – this post would enumerate the feelings of victory and what not to feel victorious about, as well as trying to feel what it’s like to be on the other side of the discussion to yourself, frustratingly trying to get a point across while a point is being flung at yourself. (2hrs)

How to approach a new problem – similar to the “How to solve X” post.  But considerations for working backwards from a wicked problem, as well as trying “The least bad solution I know of”, Murphy-jitsu, and known solutions to similar problems.  Step 0. I notice I am approaching a problem.

Turning Stimming into a flourish – For autists, to make a presentability out of a flaw.

How to manage time – estimating the length of future tasks (and more), covered in notch system, and do tasks in a different order.  But presented on it’s own.

Spices – Adventures in sensory experience land.  I ran an event of spice-smelling/guessing for a group of 30 people.  I wrote several documents in the process about spices and how to run the event.  I want to publish these.  As an exercise – it’s a fun game of guess-the-spice.

Wing it VS Plan – All of the what, why, who, and what you should do of the two.  Some people seem to be the kind of person who is always just winging it.  In contrast, some people make ridiculously complicated plans that work.  Most of us are probably somewhere in the middle.  I suggest that the more of a planner you can be the better because you can always fall back on winging it, and you probably will.  But if you don’t have a plan and are already winging it – you can’t fall back on the other option.  This concept came to me while playing ingress, which encourages you to plan your actions before you make them.

On-stage bias – The changes we make when we go onto a stage include extra makeup to adjust for the bright lights, and speaking louder to adjust for the audience which is far away. When we consider the rest of our lives, maybe we want to appear specifically X (i.e, confident, friendly) so we should change ourselves to suit the natural skews in how we present based on the “stage” we are appearing on.  appear as the person you want to appear as, not the person you naturally appear as.

Creating a workspace – considerations when thinking about a “place” of work, including desk, screen, surrounding distractions, and basically any factors that come into it.  Similar to how the very long list of sleep maintenance suggestions covers environmental factors in your sleep environment but for a workspace.

Posts added to the list since then

Doing a cost|benefit analysis – This is something we rely on when enumerating the options and choices ahead of us, but something I have never explicitly looked into.  Some costs that can get overlooked include: Time, Money, Energy, Emotions, Space, Clutter, Distraction/Attention, Memory, Side effects, and probably more.  I’d like to see a How to X guide for CBA. (wikipedia)

Extinction learning at home – A cross between intermittent reward (the worst kind of addiction), and what we know about extinguishing it.  Then applying that to “convincing” yourself to extinguish bad habits by experiential learning.  Uses the CFAR internal Double Crux technique, precommit yourself to a challenge, for example – “If I scroll through 20 facebook posts in a row and they are all not worth my time, I will be convinced that I should spend less time on facebook because it’s not worth my time”  Adjust 20 to whatever position your double crux believes to be true, then run a test and iterate.  You have to genuinely agree with the premise before running the test.  This can work for a number of committed habits which you want to extinguish.  (new idea as at the writing of this post)

How to write a dating ad – A suggestion to include information that is easy to ask questions about (this is hard).  For example; don’t write, “I like camping”, write “I like hiking overnight with my dog”, giving away details in a way that makes them worth inquiring about.  The same reason applies to why writing “I’m a great guy” is really not going to get people to believe you, as opposed to demonstrating the claim. (show, don’t tell)

How to give yourself aversions – an investigation into aversive actions and potentially how to avoid collecting them when you have a better understanding of how they happen.  (I have not done the research and will need to do that before publishing the post)

How to give someone else an aversion – similar to above, we know we can work differently to other people, and at the intersection of that is a misunderstanding that can leave people uncomfortable.

Lists – Creating lists is a great thing, currently in draft – some considerations about what lists are, what they do, what they are used for, what they can be used for, where they come in handy, and the suggestion that you should use lists more. (also some digital list-keeping solutions)

Choice to remember the details – this stems from choosing to remember names, a point in the conversation where people sometimes tune out.  As a mindfulness concept you can choose to remember the details. (short article, not exactly sure why I wanted to write about this)

What is a problem – On the path of problem solving, understanding what a problem is will help you to understand how to attack it.  Nothing more complicated than this picture to explain it.  The barrier is a problem.  This doesn’t seem important on it’s own but as a foundation for thinking about problems it’s good to have  sitting around somewhere.


How to/not attend a meetup – for anyone who has never been to a meetup, and anyone who wants the good tips on etiquette for being the new guy in a room of friends.  First meetup: shut up and listen, try not to be too much of an impact on the existing meetup group or you might misunderstand the culture.

Noticing the world, Repercussions and taking advantage of them – There are regularly world events that I notice.  Things like the olympics, Pokemon go coming out, the (recent) spaceX rocket failure.  I try to notice when big events happen and try to think about how to take advantage of the event or the repercussions caused by that event.  Motivated to think not only about all the olympians (and the fuss leading up to the olympics), but all the people at home who signed up to a gym because of the publicity of the competitive sport.  If only I could get in on the profit of gym signups…

leastgood but only solution I know of – So you know of a solution, but it’s rubbish.  Or probably is.  Also you have no better solutions.  Treat this solution as the best solution you have (because it is) and start implementing it, as you do that – keep looking for other solutions.  But at least you have a solution to work with!

Self-management thoughts – When you ask yourself, “am I making progress?”, “do I want to be in this conversation?” and other self management thoughts.  And an investigation into them – it’s a CFAR technique but their writing on the topic is brief.  (needs research)

instrumental supply-hoarding behaviour – A discussion about the benefits of hoarding supplies for future use.  Covering also – what supplies are not a good idea to store, and what supplies are.  Maybe this will be useful for people who store things for later days, and hopefully help to consolidate and add some purposefulness to their process.

list of sub groups that I have tried – Before running my local lesswrong group I partook in a great deal of other groups.  This was meant as a list with comments on each group.

If you have nothing to do – make better tools for use when real work comes along – This was probably going to be a poetic style motivation post about exactly what the title suggests.  Be Prepared.

what other people are good at (as support) – When reaching out for support, some people will be good at things that other people are not.  For example – emotional support, time to spend on each other, ideas for solving your problems.  Different people might be better or worse than others.  Thinking about this can make your strategies towards solving your problems a bit easier to manage.  Knowing what works and what does not work, or what you can reliably expect when you reach out for support from some people – is going to supercharge your fulfilment of those needs.

Focusing – An already written guide to Eugine Gendlin’s focusing technique.  That needs polishing before publishing.  The short form: treat your system 1 as a very powerful machine that understands your problems and their solutions more than you do; use your system 2 to ask it questions and see what it returns.

Rewrite: how to become a 1000 year old vampire – I got as far as breaking down this post and got stuck at draft form before rewriting.  Might take another stab at it soon.

Should you tell people your goals? This thread in a post.  In summary: It depends on the environment, the wrong environment is actually demotivational, the right environment is extra motivational.

Meta: this took around 4 hours to write up.  Which is ridiculous.  I noticed a substantial number of breaks being taken – not sure if that relates to the difficulty of creating so many summaries or just me today.  Still.  This experiment might help my future writing focus/direction so I figured I would try it out.

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preference over null preference

For some parts of life it is better to exist with a prepared preference, for other parts of life it is better to exist without a prepared preference.  This is going to be about looking at the sets of preferences and what might be better in each scenario.

On the object level some examples:

  • I like blue hair
  • I don’t like the colour red
  • I like to eat Chinese food
  • My favourite animal is a frog
  • I don’t like sport
  • I would rather spend time in a library than a nightclub
  • I love bacon icecream
  • This is my favourite hat

The specific examples are irrelevant but hopefully you get the idea.  Having a preference is about having full set and reducing it to a smaller set.  Example: one colour is my favourite out of the full set of colours.

In contrast, a null preference might look like this:

  • I don’t care what kind of pizza we eat
  • I eat anything
  • I just like being with friends, it doesn’t matter what we do
  • I love reading
  • I’ve never really had a favourite animal
  • Use your best judgement for me
  • I can’t decide what to wear

While null preferences are technically just another form of preference, I want to separate them out for a moment so that we can talk about them.

Deciding whether you should hold a preference, even if you didn’t previously have one – can be an effective strategy for making decisions where there were previously difficulties.  The benefit of having a preference is that it stands as a pre-commitment to yourself to maintain existing choices on certain choice-nodes.

The disadvantage of using this strategy is that if your preference fails to be fulfilled then you are at risk of disappointment.

If you get to the supermarket and can’t decide which type of jam (or jelly for american;) to buy, you can consult an existing preference for blueberry jam and skip the whole idea of considering other types of jam.

For preference failure, if you prefer blueberry but the store doesn’t have any, you risk leaving without jam, or being left with a choice less desirable like strawberry.

Nothing about your preference on the world effects the world until you interact with it.  For the jam example: deciding you like blueberry will not cause blueberry jam to be available to you.  Modifying the map will not immediately impact the territory.  If you go on an endless tirade everywhere you travel – of demanding blueberry jam, chances are that at some point people will be more motivated to be prepared for the mad blueberry jammer.  However the instant that you decide to have a preference, you have not yet caused any impact on the world.  So the instantaneous effect of having a preference is nothing.

There will be times where you are not in control of the choice nodes available to you.  There are times when you will be.  That doesn’t seem relevant to which is better.

There will be times when there will be more choices and times when there will be less.  That doesn’t seem relevant.

There will be times when your preference will be easily fulfilled and times when it will be hard or impossible.  That doesn’t seem relevant.

There are big expensive important choices, and small irrelevant insignificant choices.  Apart from desiring to spending more time on big expensive important choices, that doesn’t seem relevant either.

There will be days with more willpower and days with less willpower, (and days exist on which willpower does not deplete).

Should I change what I do right now?

I don’t know.  What do you do now?  Can we derive knowledge from the pre-existing system to make progress on what should change towards the future.

Try this:

  • Think of 10 decisions you have made today (or recently). This might be the hard part.
  • Were they all good decisions?  Do you already know what would have been better decisions in those places?  Can you identify the ones that need improvement already?
  • For each one, think of what metric would allow you to know you have made them better.

    • Better outcomes as a result of your decision
    • Faster decisions
    • Decisions that take something into account
    • Decisions that are more inline with high level or distant goals
    • Decisions that make you look good to your peers
    • Decisions that leave you feeling more of a certain feeling – free, safe, thrifty, skilled, powerful…
  • For each decision and for each metric, is a better outcome likely to come from having a preference, or having a null preference.

As I get to this point I don’t have a defining thesis for this concept.  I don’t have an answer as to whether preference can be ruled better than a null.  Or that you might want to reduce your identity down until you have all null preferences, leading you to flexibility and freedom (of course such a reduction leads to a burden of maintaining the system of nulls as well).

I do want to open up this concept to you to decide and influence the use of the idea.  If you hold a preference too strongly you risk the possibility of making the wrong choice over and over.  If you hold it too loosely you risk indifference towards the world (maybe part of the answer is to look at where you are now in terms of decision problems and consider which direction you want to travel towards).  I don’t know.

  • How can this concept be used?
  • What comes to mind as a powerful example of preference over null preference, or nulls over active preference?
  • Where do you stand now?  And if you were to move in any direction which would it be?
  • Does the application of preference/null solve or reshape any existing problems in your life?

Meta: 2 hours writing, then I got stuck when I realised I didn’t have a concluding thesis (didn’t actually have the answers) but I wanted to release the incomplete concept anyway to see if anyone else could come up with ideas around it.

Cross posted to lesswrong: http://lesswrong.com/lw/nwc

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New music powers

I have written before about how I am pretty terrible at canvassing music in my head.  This lends to the appalling ability (to musically oriented people) to be able to do things like listen to the same song on repeat 500 times or more in a row without being bothered by it either way.  I never cared more than the sense of “this is interesting but irrelevant” on the idea.

Being indifferent to music has given me the ability to be completely useless at holding a musical preference, or explore the value of music in terms of going to music events, or participating in musical experiences.

This week something changed!  Or more accurately last week.  Last week I was listening to a piece for the n’th time, but at the same time was quite badly sleep deprived.  As I was listening the music started falling apart.  Different parts of the music changed volume so that I could isolate different instruments and follow different features of the music.  At the time, being a bit sleep deprived I took it as a warning that maybe it was time to go to bed.  hint hint: your going a little nuts.

Today I noticed I can still do it.  When I am no longer sleep deprived I can pay attention to music in a different way than I used to be able to.  I can single out the drums and only “listen” to that part, or the guitar, or the vocals.  (it’s pop music on the radio).

Of course the reason I bothered to write about it, and the reason that it’s interesting is; as half the readers can probably imagine – I told a musical friend of mine that I had developed new powers and he said,

Wait, people can’t normally do that?

So I get to add this to the pile of typical mind, sensory perception assumptions that we make when we interpret our own individual world through our own senses.  What if your senses worked a bit differently?  How much would that fundamentally change how you operate as a human?  How much you assume about the world around you and how it works?  And how everyone else works?

Question:  What are your natural assumptions about how your senses work?  Have you ever noticed anyone else acting on different basic natural assumptions?

Meta: this took 45mins to write.

Cross posted to lesswrong: http://lesswrong.com/lw/nw4

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Changing time zones

With a few of my new organisation and time management prediction algorithms I have found that I can plan down to a few minutes accurately.  I noticed something today that surprised me.

I wear two watches.  The history of this goes back more than 10 years, but today I wear two watches because one of them is analog and never runs out of battery and the other is digital and tracks heart rate, skin temp, perspiration and other metrics while also being a smart digital watch and telling the time, but only has a 4 day long battery life.

My digital watch updates to whatever time my phone is set to, which updates to global servers etc. so that watch is the right time.  I accidentally set my analog watch fast and then noticed I would get places just on time, or quite very exactly on time instead of 5 minutes late.  I really lucked out with this behaviour, because it took me a while to figure out what is happening.  Or what I think is happening.

When I am running late, I check the time in a system 1 way, which means I glance at my watch and continue about my day.  Then my brain takes the information granted by the visual angle of the hands and converts that into time for me to work out if I am running late or on time.  By having my analog watch fast, I will take actions that involve assumptions that the time is actually faster than it is.  For example, deciding to leave my house because I “should have left already”, instead of spending another 5 minutes on whatever I am doing.

If I am planning tasks for the future, or doing other time-checking behaviour, I do it using system 2, I naturally check both my watches so that I get an accurate feel for the time now.


Today I was struck by the idea I was suddenly running late.  Which is not a feeling I was expecting given that I was in fact running squarely on time.  Where what actually transpired was that I was looking at computer time when I decided to go in the shower, and when I got out of the shower I looked at analog time.  Which put me squarely past the “running right on time” and into the “definitely running late”. In other words I changed time zone on myself.

This whole post is to note that noticing when things surprise you is an excellent habit to have.  This case was pretty cut and dry as I analysed why I was late and concluded that I in fact was not.  But the next thing to surprise me might not be so obvious.

Question: What has surprised you recently?  What happened, how did your map of the world fail to explain what was going to happen?

Meta: this took an hour to write.

Cross posted to lesswrong: http://lesswrong.com/lw/nw2

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A model of arguments

Why do we argue, when we could be discussing things in a productive manner? Arguments often occur because the parties involved simply don’t have the tools to transmit their ideas clearly.  In this kind of situation, the whole conversation can completely break down. It’s easy to spend a lot of time saying “You’re wrong”, without accomplishing anything.  

Let’s imagine two people having an argument, represented by a Venn diagram.  A in the black, and B in the blue.  They each see the issue slightly differently. The blue circle to represent B’s opinion and a black circle to represent A’s opinion.  The concept of “You’re wrong” falls into the area of describing the other person’s ideas.

Person A says, “You’re wrong” to Person B.  A description of the state of affairs of B’s ideas.  Not one that really represents A’s own ideas.  Naturally, Person B says, “No you’re wrong” back, equally making the unfounded claim on A’s conceptual real-estate.  The thing that is hard to demonstrate is the conflict that is accidentally generated by crossing into each other’s territory to declare things.


To do this creates a crossing-over of ideas.  


We don’t even need to know what the argument is about, but we can expect something like this to happen:



Now suppose instead of Person A saying, “You’re wrong”, where they place the burden of argument (and proof) on the opposition, they now say, “We disagree”.  


Person B can now continue to make the same argument of “You’re wrong”.  But so long as Person A shrugs and replies “We disagree”, there is no conflict in the argument.  


For some Person Bs, Person A might get lucky, and the two could end up with a happy middle ground of  “Yes, we disagree”.  This is already a step in the right direction, and will let the pair continue to sort out precisely where and how they disagree  On the other hand, a stubborn Person B will still present a problem.


Hey, that’s the internet for you! You win some, you lose some.


Nonetheless, the shared ground offered by “We disagree” will often spur constructive discussion.


As it turns out, there is another way.  When you go to understand someone else’s idea, instead of starting with “You are wrong”, consider starting with, “I am wrong”. Right from the start, this gives you an advantage. Rather than starting off from a position of conflict, you start off in a position of equality.


Sometimes the other party won’t accept your peace offering. They will bristle and rage and prepare for the offensive.


But it’s far more common to see an offer of equality met by an acceptance of that equality. Instead of things going downhill, this usually happens:


Or this:



And a pleasant discussion can ensue.

Why is this so great? Because what we’re aiming for here – what we really want out of discussions – is this:





What we are aiming for is to trade knowledge until we can conclude the answers in the end.

This style of measured, polite and constructive conversation can only occur when parties meet each other on equal terms.

If there’s one lesson to take home from this post, it’s that the way you deliver your argument can easily be what makes it powerful. If you come in throwing punches, ready to take your opponent down a notch or two, you might enjoy yourself – but don’t expect to have a constructive discussion. Whereas if you approach your opponent as an equal from the shared ground of “We disagree”, or even from the vulnerable position of “I am wrong” – well, what reasonable opponent could disagree with that?

This post took me weeks of thinking about, and only 3 hours to write down and draw the first time.  But it was rubbish.  Didn’t make sense.  The rewrite was contributed by the Captain and the slack, taking another 2 hours.  This version gets the point of the idea across.  I sent the original post to Tim@waitbutwhy but he is very busy and declined to draw pictures to go along with it.

Cross posted to lesswrong: http://lesswrong.com/lw/nvy

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